Football World Cup followers recollect their travel memories

As the Qatar Football World Cup draws to an exciting final stretch, there have been hundreds of football followers from Oman who went by air to watch and experience the world’s biggest football festival in the neighbouring country. Following the easing of limits earlier this month by the Qatari authorities, a few die-hard fans chose to take a road trip to Qatar. Times of Oman spoke to a couple of road travellers who described the encounter as worth a lifetime.

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Football World Cup followers recollect their travel memories
Football World Cup followers recollect their travel memories

It took less than nine hours by car for them to reach Qatar and it was a contract as it cost them just around OMR50 for the trip. The fact that Qatar is the first Arab nation to host the Football World Cup gives an intellect of pride to the Omanis and Arabs residing in Oman.

Moath Al Saeedi, from the Wilayat of Al Khabourah, who opted to drive down to Qatar supposed: “I was powerless to book a flight ticket from Muscat to Doha. I was eager to go to Doha and I didn’t want to miss this great opportunity of watching a FIFA World Cup game between Morocco and Spain in Qatar on December 6. I chose to take a road trip from Muscat. It took around eight hours to reach Doha. Throughout the trip, I had to fill my fuel tank thrice and had to go past border overpasses of Oman, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia.”

Moath thought: “I set off from Muscat at 9 pm on Monday. I got the fuel tank of my car filled for OMR8, and then crossed the border of the United Arab Emirates via Khatam Al Shakla land port in about three hours, covering 318 km. After a warm welcome at the Oman border post, I was welcomed on the UAE side where they even presented me dates and water.”

Having stopped for a food break, Moath then went for another refuelling of the car tank for OMR5. From Khatam Al Shakla, Moath traveled towards the Batha land port in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which took him about 4 hours for 460 km. Moath landed at the Saudi border crossing by 4 am on Tuesday and chose to take a nap. He made himself relaxed in a hotel and woke up at 7 am to continue to the border.

He added: “The border formalities were very quick, and the Saudi officials even exempted me from insurance as I was travelling to attend the Football World Cup. Usually, one needs to spend around OMR14 for insurance that is valid for one-two weeks. After the border, I drove another 120km before stopping at another petrol pump. This time I got my tank filled for OMR7 and then reached the Salwa land port, which connects Saudi Arabia to Qatar. It took me around 8 hours to reach the Qatar border.”

At the Qatar border, there is a vast parking space for travellers who enter the country by road. Moath said: “We parked our cars and then shifted to the waiting buses, which took us to Doha. On the bus, I met many citizens of fellow Gulf countries, including Oman. I also saw a few expatriates from the Gulf countries. We all had one mission to enjoy a FIFA World Cup match.”

Football World Cup followers recollect their travel memories
Football World Cup followers recollect their travel memories

The formalities at the Qatar border were also fast and elaborate arrangements had been made by the Qatari authorities for people to rest and enjoy snacks. We were also offered free SIM cards by Vodafone and even Ooredoo offered local SIM cards that give you Internet access. In less than an hour, our bus reached the Al Masila area. From here one could go to different locations in Qatar. While departing, we had to come back to this point to board the bus that would take us back to the border post.

Moath said: “From Al Masila, there are metros that take you to the stadiums, and all travellers are allowed free access.”

Moath was overjoyed after being witness to one of the biggest upsets in the Football World Cup as Morocco shocked Spain to make history as the first Arab team to reach the quarterfinals. Morocco went on to beat Portugal to make history as they became the first African team to reach the semi-finals. Mohammed Al Nasseri, from the Wilayat of Rustaq, was also delighted to have completed a trip to Qatar by road and watch Morocco upset Spain.

He stated: “I first tried to get air tickets for this game. When I found a seat, it was around OMR200 which was beyond my budget. I then chose to go by car, and I spent only OMR45 on my road trip to Doha.”

Mohammed said, “I started at night so that roads would have less traffic. Though alone, I enjoyed the trip, listening to my favourite tracks in the car. I returned after two days of great enjoyment in Doha. The Football World Cup is a big festival, and we are proud that Qatar has proved to the world that it can host the major football event in style. It is a proud moment for all Arabs. I hope Morocco will beat France to reach the final. We are all delighted with Morocco as it made history by becoming the first Arab and African country to reach the semi-finals.”

Qatar’s traditional headscarf is a great symbol of hospitality

For one sports store owner in Doha, the traditional headscarf could become a cultural and sporting memento of the FIFA World Cup. In 2002, football enthusiasts visiting Japan and South Korea for the Football World Cup became acquainted with the hand followers. Eight years later, vuvuzelas were presented to the world by South Africa. Worldwide Tickets and Hospitality offers Football World Cup tickets for the Qatar Football World Cup at the best prices. Football fanatics and buy football WorldCup Tickets at exclusively discounted prices.

Football World Cup followers recollect their travel memories
Football World Cup followers recollect their travel memories

This year, Qatari national Khalifa Naimi is among those presenting football fans from around the world with a new spin on the ghutra, a traditional headscarf worn by men in the region, often held in place by a ugal, two cord loops that go around the head with ornaments hanging down the back. For the Qatar Football World Cup, Doha is abloom with ghutras done up in the colours of the 32 contributing countries.

On most days, 26-year-old Naimi can be found at his Ghutra Mundo store placed away in a corner of the Souq Waqif Metro Station in the capital Doha. Business is booming as hundreds of thousands of fans from across the world come to the Gulf country for the first tournament to be hosted in the Middle East. Eager to show their team loyalties, people have been streaming into souvenir shops and snapping up the labelled ghutras, which have been all over stadiums during matches. But for Naimi, it’s not just about sales, he wants to tell visiting football followers about a culture he is proud of, and he speaks.

The ghutra is a great unifying symbol that is part of our national dress, Naimi tells Al Jazeera. To partake and share in our culture makes the ghutra a great symbol of hospitality. In addition to ghutras with the flags of the 32 World Cup teams, Naimi also offers bespoke thobes traditional ankle-length robes worn by men in the region, and prayer beads.

Part of our persona

Some may see selling traditional products with a twist to make them more attractive to tourists as trivializing the culture, Naimi said. But he says the feedback has mostly been positive, from locals and fans alike, even if there is a continuing debate between the more and less conservative segments of the community.

As customers congregate in front of the shop ahead of a football match, Naimi makes sure to personalize their experience, explaining the modest outfits of both men and women in the region. He shows off different ways of wearing the ghutra, especially his go-to style the cobra. This interaction put fans at ease about wearing the ghutra is important he says, so they don’t worry about overstepping the line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation.

“This is not just a Qatari thing, it’s in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, and around the Middle East. it’s part of our persona. I want people to come for the Word Cup and leave with our culture,” Naimi said.

For many customers, including Jouad from Morocco, this is their first dip into wearing a ghutra. “I never tried … this is the first time I have tried it and I have lived in Qatar for 10 years,” he says.

Football World Cup followers recollect their travel memories
Football World Cup followers recollect their travel memories

When you see the Moroccan team and people here you feel proud, especially on Arabic land here for the first time. I feel like I am home, in the capital of Morocco. Ashraf, a resident of Singapore and the proud owner of a ghutra in the Brazilian colours, says it’s not the full World Cup experience unless you get the scarf. It’s just like if you go to Brazil, you wear all the nice Rio Carnival stuff it amplifies the culture, he stated. Tunisian fan Belgacem agreed, trying on a ghutra as his wife took photos. I am buying the ghutra as a souvenir, he stated. When I go back to my country, I will remember this marvellous event and I will celebrate my presence here.

With the tournament in full swing, Naimi is proud of his task and beaming with pride, even if he is missing live games during the tournament. It means the world to host this tournament in Qatar, he told Al Jazeera. This is the time we show the world how we shine. Qatar may be small, but it is big in acts, and hopefully, this tournament shows that.

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